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Natural Awakenings Westchester / Putnam / Dutchess New York

Farm to School

Poughkeepsie students harvest produce for a healthy snack.

More Dutchess County kids will have access to fresh, nutritious food, thanks to a recent grant from the New York State Farm-to-School program, which helps K-12 schools connect with local farmers, incorporate more locally grown food in school menus, improve student health and educate young people about agriculture. The award will enable the Poughkeepsie Farm Project (PFP) to enhance its Farm-to-School program while expanding its services to include the Wappingers Central School District (WCSD).

In January, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that $1 million had been awarded to 12 Farm-to-School projects across the state, with PFP receiving the highest grant level of $100,000. The Hudson Valley AgriBusiness Development Corporation (HVADC) will help implement the grant.

PFP will use its grant funding to increase the capacity of school nutrition teams to prepare and preserve local farm products, increase the number and variety of local farm products procured for school meals, expand the program to the Wappingers district, and implement a state Harvest of the Month campaign. The expanded project will benefit 15,200 students in the Poughkeepsie and Wappingers school districts.

Linking Farms and Schools

PFP was designed as a whole-systems approach to local food procurement and community engagement within the local food system. It is a farm-based nonprofit committed to cultivating a just and sustainable food system in the Mid-Hudson Valley. On its member-supported farm in the City of Poughkeepsie, it grows fresh vegetables and fruit for a CSA, trains future farmers, provides hands-on educational programs and improves access to healthy, locally grown food.

In 2010, PFP partnered with PCSP to increase access to healthy food and work toward community food security. With a two-year USDA Farm-to-School grant awarded in December 2012, the two organizations collaborated on a Farm-to-School project introducing more fresh, local produce into school meals and changing how students, staff and families thought about food. HVADC helped PCSD’s nutrition directors connect with farmers who could supply local products as replacements in school meals.

The Farm-to-School program is especially important in the Poughkeepsie district, where prior to community eligibility, 86 percent of students qualified for free- or reduced-price lunch. During the school year, PCSD provides meals for 4,700 students. Some PCSD schools offer breakfast and lunch; others offer dinner as well. PCSD also provides summer meals at 22 sites throughout Poughkeepsie.

Revamping School Lunch

The new grant will fund the purchase of more food from local farms for PCSD, and will also expand PFP’s Farm-to-School work to WCSD, where some 40 percent of its 11,500 students participate in school meals, 34 percent are overweight or obese and 27 percent are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. Revamping the school lunch program will impact lower-income students, who are more likely to participate in school meals.

“We are thrilled to partner with the Poughkeepsie City School District and the Poughkeepsie Farm Project as part of the grant through New York State to increase the use of locally sourced foods in schools,” says Jose L. Carrion, superintendent of schools for WCSD. “We continuously seek opportunities to showcase local businesses to help increase our students’ awareness of the service they provide to our community. In addition, we are thrilled to have our food service personnel learn new ways to prepare locally grown foods and know it will benefit both our staff and the students. Educating our students on the importance of healthy food choices, and that these foods are available in our local grocery stores, is a win for our entire community.”

PFP offers educational programming for public school students, both at its farm and at school gardens that it has helped build at all the schools in the PCSD.

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